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If you can’t sleep easily, or wake up at night and can’t fall back asleep, you’ve come to the right place for solutions! Sleep is something I’ve struggled with for a long time. I fall asleep easily, but so many times I wake up in the middle of the night around 2-3 am, and can’t go back to sleep. Many accidental findings later, it’s no longer a problem.
Exercise regularly: Quite by accident, I stumbled onto something we are all peripherally aware of, but discount – exercise really improves sleep. My journey to better sleep through exercise was certainly not intentional and went like this: I bought an iPhone to take better pictures. Then I bought an Apple watch (I hugely recommend series 7, often on sale at Amazon for only $327) only to find that iPhone. Getting that watch had unexpectedly powerful effects: I started tracking my daily exercise and sharing my fitness data with a friend (see how here), motivating me to exercise more. The first thing I noticed off the bat, when I walked 1.5 miles in a single stretch a day, my nighttime awakenings were dropping off steeply. So many nights, I’d just sleep straight through and it felt wonderful.
Watch what you eat: In my mid-30s, my body decided to make me intolerant to a number of foods. My food intolerances are expressed in any number of delightful ways. These include canker sores, skin eruptions, tummy upsets if I have a huge amount of the allergen, and mainly, reflux, and tight neck muscles secondary to reflux. If I eat the wrong thing or too oily/spicy food, I WILL wake up in the middle of the night with reflux. It’s practically guaranteed. Recognizing and avoiding food triggers is really not as straightforward or foolproof as one might think. You may have subtle food intolerances you have not picked up on. Recognizing them involves paying attention to your body (maybe keep a food diary), and maybe running a food allergy panel, but it’s worth the effort! Eating early also helps a lot.
Sleep at the right time: I notice that around 9.30 pm, I got powerfully sleepy. If I slept when my body told me to sleep, the quality & duration of sleep automatically improved. If I pushed sleep to 11:30 pm or midnight, the sleep quality would likely suffer. This is something so woefully clear to all of us, but still something ignored.
But despite doing all these things, I may still wake up in the middle of the night. Nothing is bulletproof after all. Or there are times when some or all of these habits fall by the wayside. Then what? I tried two new things: listening to guided meditation and ASMR, both of which have been godsends, especially ASMR.
First, if you don’t have AirPods or any other wireless headphones, I highly recommend buying some. AirPods are often on sale on Amazon for only $99-$174. I bought these to specifically try guided meditations for sleep.
Guided sleep meditations are available from any number of creators. All of them work on a common principle: they help lull you to sleep by making you focus on your breathing, and then deliberately focus on relaxing different parts of your body. I’ve tried many different artists – my favorite ones so far (not perfect, but the most repeatedly effective) are by Laurie Ostrowski Fenton. Her arrangements are not perfect, but she is successful because her voice is incredibly calming, and her buildup is excellent – she goes from soft-spoken to whispering, and as I cover in the next section, whispering is very, very effective at putting me to sleep.
Another option suggested by a group member (Yoga Nidra by Gurudev) has a very good arrangement and the most amazing, sleep-inducing music. But, OMG, the person speaking has a really loud, grating voice that wakes me up every time I go off. The best sleep meditation ever would be if someone with excellent voice modulation recreated this video, ideally whispering throughout.
You don’t have to stick to only these suggestions – lots and lots of options are available. Just make sure that whatever audio you are listening to loops or ends. If it switches to another more grating audio, it can wake you up – has happened to me multiple times.
What is ASMR, you ask? I was first introduced to it through a randomly selected science podcast, and it turned out to be a somewhat life-altering listen. ASMR stands for Autonomous sensory meridian response and is commonly triggered by specific auditory or audio-visual stimuli. ASMR first was introduced around 2007, and has exploded since. There are apparently 13 million ASMR videos on YouTube as of 2018 (As per Wikipedia), and they have apparently been viewed billions of times – the podcast said around 80 billion (!!!!!!), but I’m quoting from memory.
It can be people softly speaking or whispering, and doing mundane repetitive things like folding clothes, turning the pages of a book, tapping on a mic, brushing a mic, etc. ASMR can induce a tingling sensation, a sense of euphoria, and/or sleepiness. Not everyone will experience ASMR, but a big subset of people do. I myself don’t experience tingles or euphoria, but then I have not tried watching an ASMR video, only listened to audio. Only one type of ASMR (the whispering, not the soft speaking) works for me, and it makes me sleep. Always. Like 100% of the time. It’s sleep magic for my brain. When I realized whispering has this effect on me, it also clicked why some sleep meditations work on me – the good ones have people whispering in the end.
I’ve tried a few ASMR stations on YouTube and on Apple Podcasts. If ASMR whispering works for you, it will not matter that much what they whisper – it’s the intonation that mysteriously works on your brain. The YouTube offerings that populate on top are by attractive people talking about more mundane things – this one was the most successful on YouTube for me.
But I have a brain that craves complexity. The ASMR station (Blue Skies by Bluemind) I found on Apple Podcasts delivered on that complexity, and I love her content. She has a very soothing voice, but more than that what she has to say is interesting in itself. This is a great whispered episode on the need for rest to start with. She has sent me to sleep dozens of times with many different podcasts (you’ll need the variety). She has an eclectic compilation, but it’s only her whispered (not soft-spoken/other sound-creating) ASMRs that send me straight to sleep.
So I tried ASMR for my kid one day she could not sleep, and it knocked her out! I tried a BlueMind ASMR that would be suitable for kids (lots of her episodes totally are not), and I found these 3; my daughter is a huge Steven Universe fan.
Jade Roller for sleep
On Steven Universe Future – Part 1
On Steven Universe Future -Part 2
She also has a Raya and the Last dragon episode, but that one has chip eating, and I’m afraid that sound will trigger my misophonia, so I’ve never tried it.
You can loop the episodes using the play next and play last features, and even keep it on all night, or switch it off after they are out.
As with guided meditation, you don’t have to stick with the choices I have suggested – lots of different options out there. Do a search for “ASMR whispering for sleep” and see what comes up if you want to check out other options!
So here you have it. I’ve had a pretty awful week – after avoiding it for two years, my daughter got COVID last Sunday. She had a super high viral load, but thank you vaccination, boosting, and the other extras we did, she was mostly fully recovered within 2 days, but it will take her a long time to test negative. Meanwhile, we are trapped at home cut off from the world and I’m still trying to isolate myself from her because I’m still testing negative. In all this, I’m not exercising, sleeping on time, and I’m being woken up in the middle of the night with requests to cuddle (with masks). All in all, my sleep SHOULD be wrecked. It’s only not because of ASMR, and for that, I’m incredibly, incredibly grateful.